I’ve been thinking a lot about artistic expression and its relationship to public recognition. A primary reason I write is to express myself. Whether I’m writing a novel or a journal entry, I’m trying to say something. Its meaning isn’t always clear to me, especially in the beginning, but eventually, through writing, I get there.
It’s enormously satisfying to finish a piece of writing and feel you’ve done the best you could. You’ve put all your energy and creativity into your work.
Expression is the essence of all art—music, painting, sculpture, performance, writing. The urge to express is what fuels the imagination.
However . . . it’s not enough to just express, especially when writing a novel. During the writing process, the original impetus for self-expression gives way to tactics and technique. Novels have characters, who have desires and face obstacles to achieving those desires, and may or may not achieve their goals. Then there are issues of structure, setting, tone, pace, point of view and more that the writer has to solve.
Therefore, I must go beyond self-expression and turn to matters of craft because I want my novels to be published and I want readers to find them and love them. This is where you leave expression behind and enter the territory of seeking recognition.
What kind of recognition? Pulitzer Prize for fiction? Dream away. New York Times bestseller? I’ll take it. A published novel (or two, so far, in my case)—that’s something.
Sometimes, all the recognition we could hope for is someone we respect to say, “You’re a great writer.”
But recognition of any sort for a writer (for this writer, anyway) can be a trap.
The trap is never being satisfied. You got two novels published? Fine, but where’s the third and the fourth? You won a fiction-writing prize? Congratulations. But why didn’t you win the Edgar, or the Pulitzer, or whatever out-of-reach prize has its claws in your heart?
You might think that never being satisfied is what keeps me motivated: write an acclaimed novel, sell more books, gain respect and recognition. Better and more. Better and more. Of course I want all that. But so much of recognition is beyond individual control. Yes, you have to write a great novel, but you also need luck, your book has to fit what the market is looking for, you must be championed by passionate advocates.
So it can’t be the desire for recognition that keeps me going. That’s a losing game. What keeps me going is that I’m a writer. I write. I express myself. The rest of it . . . well, I write.